Eczema, Asthma, and Allergies, Oh My!

It’s not uncommon to see small babies, their little cheeks roundly cherubic, flushed red with eczema. It’s one of the most common skin complaints in young children. Eczema itself is a broad term referring to any number of red, itchy rashes, but most often the word, “eczema,” is used to refer specifically to the skin condition known as atopic dermatitis.

The rash associated with this condition is an immune response, often becoming cyclical. A child’s skin is irritated and becomes itchy. They rub or scratch at it, and the skin becomes more inflamed. The protective, outer layer of skin wears away and thus becomes even more sensitive, easily drying out. Often the rash begins in the cheeks, first appearing red and weepy, but then becoming cracked, dry and scaly. Affected areas may also include the neck, wrists, hands, elbows and knees. If the underlying cause is not addressed, the cycle of itching, scratching and irritation perpetuates itself.

Babies younger than a year old are commonly affected, and atopic dermatitis is often seen in young children up to around age 5. A child is more likely to develop atopic dermatitis when family members have it, or when they also have asthma or allergies. In each case, the immune system is experiencing a reaction to some stimulus within the environment.

Breast milk, full of helpful antibodies perfectly suited for the child, has been shown to reduce the likelihood of many conditions related to immune response, including eczema, asthma and allergies. It is also prudent for a breastfeeding mother to pay attention to her diet, as it is possible that a child may still experience a reaction to foods that the mother is eating through her breast milk.

Triggers of atopic dermatitis vary. Both excess moisture and dryness within the environment are unfavorable, as well as too much heat. Other environmental factors can include smoke, harsh soap and detergent, as well as pet dander. Common food allergies associated with dermatitis include sensitivity to milk products, wheat, soy, eggs, nuts and peanuts.

Certain factors can help lessen incidents of eczema. Paying attention to foods, and which ones may aggravate symptoms, is key. Keep in mind that protein particles can stay in the body for up to three weeks, so it may take up to a month without dairy, for example, to notice a difference in the skin.

Wearing breathable clothing is helpful, as well as making sure bath temperatures are not too hot. Keeping baths brief and at a lukewarm temperature, making sure a child is out before their skin turns prune-like, is key, as is little to no soap of any kind. Be sure to only use soap when absolutely necessary, and a gentle one at that. Once a child is out of the bath, use a natural moisturizer while the skin is still damp. Applying moisturizer to affected areas a second time throughout the day can also calm the skin. In addition, you may want to use the Bye Bye Itchy Skin ritual to connect with your child.

Most children are able to grow out of atopic dermatitis by the time they reach kindergarten, and if not by then, the symptoms tend to fade when they become a teenager. For the rare cases that last longer than that, you can rest assured that the frequency and severity of flare-ups decreases over time.

Stay tuned for our upcoming podcast on allergies!
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